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Humanity Absent from World’s most Acclaimed Development Report

By Tani Alex

The World Development Report (WDR) is the World Bank’s development research and policy review report published annually. Started by IBRD since 1978, this report is intended to provide deep and extensive analysis on one particular aspect of economic development, every year. The solutions and policy messages brought out in this report is widely scrutinised by researchers, policy makers, governments and civil society since this ‘flagship’ report is supposedly the Bank’s highly prized research contribution to the development world. Heavy research budgets, far-reaching dissemination and the legitimacy of ‘World Bank’ publication make this a cherished one for the Bank. Few of the previous years’ reports focused on education, health, environment, risk management, poverty, the role of the state, youth, agriculture, equity and public services delivery.

Quick Glimpse into the development of WDR 2019

The World Development Report 2019: Changing Nature of Work (WDR 2019) examines the changing nature of work and firms, laying emphasis on the impact of technology and digital innovation on the current global economy.

But what made this report a highly talked about one in the recent debates on development? The Bank’s previous president Jim Yong Kim writes in his foreword that this document shows the transparency of work since it was open to all for modification of drafts, almost every week online. And then, there were more than a million downloads even before halfway its publication which also made it the most downloaded report in 2018. Another occasion to note is that its preparatory phase was delayed by the Bank’s then chief economist Paul Romer’s resignation[he was the first director of WDR 2019], over his controversial remarks on the direct correlation between the political leanings of the staff and annual rankings of countries in Ease of Doing Business process of the Bank. Subsequently, the work was taken over by Simeon Djankov, who is the Founding Director of the much sought-after, yet much criticised, Doing Business Reports. Yet another highlight of this report was the introduction of Human Capital Index [The human capital project examined in WDR 2019 will be explained in another section of this article], again contested, where countries will be now ranked annually in terms of a child attaining optimum productivity after having attained education and full health from birth till 18 years of age.

Paradoxical Messages of WDR 2019

But above all, this report faces strong criticism for its two pertinent direct messages – deregulation of businesses and shifting obligations of firms/employers for social protection of workers/employees to the shoulders of the State. Few voices have come out globally carefully analysing the nuances of various explanations given by the Bank to establish the context for its suggestions for the future of work for the evolving economy.

It is true that the report has failed to give a rounded, well-thought critique on the actual challenges faced by workers in the accelerated transformation of the world of work.  To put it short, critically speaking, this report is inherently characterised on anti-worker perspective. The deregulatory solution brought out in this report parrots almost all the editions of Doing Business Reports since 2003 promoting private sector development and having influenced watering down of many regulatory policies across countries to facilitate rapid entry and development of the business.

This was eagerly executed by governments because labour regulations policies allegedly stifled exciting investments and swift economic growth. It is ironical that the same Bank, in its WDR 2013: Jobs, after extensive review on the link between labour regulation and employment [following a massive hue and cry from few governments, labour movements and ILO], had stated that this ‘link’ was non-existent. This obviously shows WDR 2019 disproves the exhaustive findings of WDR 2013!

Moreover, the Bank, during its previous Annual Meetings at Bali during October 2018 had introduced its new Environmental and Social Framework, where respect for workers’ rights in Bank’s projects was entered as Labour Safeguards [ESS2– Labour and Working Conditions]. Not less than two weeks later after the much appreciation for Bank’s new safeguard policy, came WDR 2019 in direct and stark contrasting opinions. This is highly contradictory and problematic from the Bank’s side sending two conflicting messages in two separate yet distinguished policy publications.

Story Line of WDR 2019The world of work is progressing rapidly with technological and digital innovations including robots and Artificial Intelligence. Stable jobs are giving way to Gig- jobs and digital market places paved the way for platform market places and superstar firms. “Innovation will continue to accelerate” and there are growing chances, as already seen in many countries, that automation would replace the low-skilled redundant labour. Hence the jobs remaining outside automation would require highly skilled work-force that would have exceptional cognitive skills [logic, reasoning, critical thinking], socio-behavioural skills [teamwork, resilience, confidence, leadership] and skills of predictive adaptability [‘an individual now can have not many jobs but different careers in one lifetime’].

In order to feed into this need for a productive workforce, education and health must be critical for every child [starting from birth, especially until 5 years of age] and adult [adult learning outside the school and tertiary education. Therefore, the bank’s new Human Capital Project and Human Capital Index examines closely at this aspect of development and will recommend policy actions through country strategies. And what about those who fail to fall in the ‘formal’ and productive workforce, namely the informal workers? Well, they will be given social assistance [various forms of UBI, negative tax], social insurance and State will protect them with basic minimum, and if possible reskilling and upskilling initiatives would be undertaken].

All said, the gap of finances which then the State is faced with can be covered by mobilizing tax revenue – by imposing VAT, excise tax on tobacco, alcohol, sugar, etc. and by expanding the tax coverage base, along with further strengthening of global efforts of OECD and G-20 to agree together on preventing tax erosion and profit-shifting through tax havens.

And thereafter, to accommodate all these policy changes, there should be political incentives for governments through new social contracts for the State to protect all, whether they are formal or informal workers, whether they are employed or unemployed and wherein the returns to work for the State is also guaranteed.

It finally follows that the goal of social inclusion is achieved thus. Well, aren’t we all made happy and all looks rosy!

A Few Disquieting Specifics from WDR 2019

Apart from the disguising semantics of WDR 2019’s storyline, here is a list of important suggested possibilities of what might not be well with a large number of us globally, if its recommended policy actions are adopted by governments:

  1. Minimum wages, which ensured fair returns to workers against exploitation of employers, shall be reduced – employers are free to reduce the wages to the bare minimum.
  2. You and I can be fired from work at will. Because we pose structural rigidity to firms.
  3. Employers will be made free from providing workers’ protection rights (imagine how this would read for those who work in occupationally hazardous environments especially and already for those working as independent contractors and gig-workers who juggle multiple careers who do not fall under the regular labour category)
  4. Already data is given in the report of advanced economies enjoying the productivity of robots, while the employment growth has been steady and has not been affected. But how can these be ideated with that of situations in poor and low-middle income countries?
  5. Workers are expensive if labour rights and protection are implemented in every firm, hence do away with labour regulations! [Shake hands with the similar recommendations of Doing Business Reports!]
  6. The present Bismarckian model of social security scheme based on workers’ and employers’ voluntary contribution will be changed since they do not include the informal workers who are 2/3rdof developing country population.
  7. The informality of works worldwide poses a huge problem of workers not being able to be adapted to the past faced requirements of the transforming economy. Majority of us will be jobless unless we keep on learning if we are adults. No mention of senior citizens in the report.
  8. Digital marketplaces, to read accurately, ‘intangible marketplaces’ get away with not having to pay taxes and profit-shifting. So, let the governments finance their basic social welfare schemes and assistance by expanding the tax base and increasing regressive VAT. Imagine how a poor or developing nation would suffer from the burden of it – the ordinary man’s wages go into his daily sustenance and will not have savings, and then he needs to pay VAT over what he consumes for his survival!
  9. Various forms of Universal Basic Income [UBI] are recommended.
  10. Rich will get richer, poor will be increasingly poorer (seems the Gini coefficient hasn’t moved altogether for some time)

Other General Global Concerns with WDR 2019

The following broad critique has been collated and arranged from all the sources given in this article, hyperlinked at various instances.

  1. Lack of significant research data
  2. Selective data and evidence presentation
  3. Casual handling of the subject with sweeping generalizations
  4. Central assertions of the document [except maybe a little in the Building Human Capital and Lifelong learning] are devoid of solid and reliable data and genuine analysis.
  5. The Bank has perhaps allowed right-wing ideologies to trickle down into their research reports.
  6. While stressing the need to acknowledge the rise of platform markets and independent contractors, legal protection and safeguards for the emerging distinct labour force [who have also met serious resistance while campaigning for their rights like Uber Drivers] have not been addressed.
  7. Pro-business and superstar firms agenda
  8. Growing inequality of economies inadequately discussed
  9. “Disregarding history, blinkered to indigenous protests, pretending there’s a peaceful pathway to all things good”

Longstanding observers of WDR over many years has recognised the emerging pattern of the Bank to move away from their adopting best practices to better learning by doing exercises. And that the Bank has been engaging in wider politics for better acceptance of their policy recommendations, including the “elite interests and ideologies; addressing collective action problems; building support for reform…legitimising a wider consensus”, for “pro-poor experimentation.”

The report has not just suggested eliminating the responsibility of social protection from the private sector and superstar firms, but altogether failed to address and recall the need of commitment from advanced nations to contribute in global development, by limiting the scope of the report to just low and middle-income economy experiments and discussions.

Much disappointing and worse is the fact that, here, human beings are pitted as human capital only, to be tailor-made for ‘productivity’. In the impatient race for economic growth and capital, the creativity of humanity, the plight of less privileged and marginalised, the ever-present resistances of people’s groups and movements, declining natural resources and accommodating other living beings, much less…the essence of life and living itself is non-existent in this ‘development’ report.

Symposium on India’s Engagements and Experiences with Accountability Mechanisms of Multilateral Development Banks

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The Inspection Panel is completing 25 years in its role, as an accountability mechanism of the World Bank. As you are aware, the Bank’s failure to comply with its operating policies was seen by the entire world in the Bank’s financing with the Sardar Sarovar Dam project on River Narmada. The tenacity of massive grass-roots uprisings from our communities in the 80’s and the sustained hard work of our social movements along with our resoluteness to link it with international coalitions to question the hegemony of the Bank, subsequently led the Bank, for the first time, to commission an independent review of its project. The Independent Review Committee (Morse Committee) constituted by the Bank in 1991 to review the social and environmental costs and benefits of the dam, after years of consistent struggle by Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) and its allies led to a demand from the civil society around the globe for the creation of a grievance redressal system for project-affected communities, which ultimately pressurized the Bank to constitute the Inspection Panel in 1993. We expected this might be a crucial backstop and an opportunity for us to raise our issues of livelihoods, economic loss, displacement from our lands, alienation from natural resources, destruction of environment and threat to our biodiversity and cultural hotspots, where Bank invested in large, supposedly ‘development’ projects like mega dams, energy and other infrastructure projects. Yet, the outcome we expected rarely delivered sufficient remedy for the harm and losses people have experienced over the years.

A number of accountability mechanisms over the next couple of decades in several development finance institutions were formed following the model of World Bank, commonly known as ‘Independent Accountability Mechanisms’[IAMs]. Each year the number of complaints rise which is an indication of the increasing number of grievous projects happening around the world. While IAMs of most MDBs are advertised to provide strong and just processes, many of our experiences imply that the banks are accommodating practices which suit their own needs and their clients, which are borrowing countries and agencies, and not the people for whom the IAMs were built to serve.

Many a time, we have been disappointed by these mechanisms, since these are designed by the banks who are lending for disastrous projects in our lands. And as a result, the already existing narrow mandate of IAMs is further restricted.

In our efforts to hold the lending bank accountable, the communities are always presented with the arduous process of learning the complex formalities and detailed procedures to initially approach the IAMs and get our grievances registered. Our many years’ time and energy then is channelised into seeing through the various cycles of these complaint handling mechanisms, that our entire efforts go into this process, and often our complaint gets dropped off in midst of the procedural rules of the IAMs. People are made to wait many months to clear procedural levels and our cases with the IAMs get highly unpredictable. Further, we face intimidation and reprisals from the state and project agencies for having contacted the IAMs who themselves do not possess any authority to address the violations hurled out to us when we seek dignity, fair treatment and justice from them. There are many of us who feel a loss of morale after long years of struggling with lenders when we fail to see concrete benefits or changes in our circumstances, by which time considerable irreplaceable harm is already done to our lives, environment and livelihoods.

In this manner, our immediate and larger goal of holding banks for their failure to consult with and obtain consent from communities before devising action plans for our lands, water and forests is deflected in the pretext of problem-solving and grievance hearing offered to us in the name of IAMs.

With over 50 registered complaints sent to different IAMS from India in the past 25 years, many more left unregistered due to technical reasons and only a few got investigated, assessed and monitored at different levels, we have a baggage of mixed experiences with the IAMs. A few of the prominent cases from India apart from Narmada project are Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project [WB’s IP], Tata Mega Ultra-01/Mundra and Anjar [IFC’s CAO & ADB’s CRP], India Infrastructure Fund-01/Dhenkanal District [IFC’s CAO], Allain Duhangan Hydro Power Limited-01/Himachal Pradesh [IFC’s CAO] and Mumbai Urban Transport Project (2009) [WB’s IP].

As we now know, what is being witnessed recently is an influx of approved and proposed investments majorly in energy, transport, steel, roads, urban projects, bullet trains, industrial zones/corridors, smart cities, water privatization and other mega projects in India. This has been financed from different multilateral and bilateral sources, foreign corporations, private banks as well as Export-Import Banks (ExIm Banks). It has become a brutal challenge for communities, social movements and CSOs, with lenders and governments constantly shutting their eyes and ears to us who demand accountability for their actions. A compelling and timely need has arisen among diverse groups amongst us to gather together and critically analyze the various trajectories of our engagements with accountability mechanisms of MDBs in order to bring together past 25 years’ learning, insights and reflections of various actors of this accountability process. This urging demand is also an attempt to define the collective experiences in India among our social movements, projected-affected communities and CSOs with IAMs and lending banks, especially appropriating the global political opportunity of Inspection Panel celebrating its 25 years this year.

The schedule and list of speakers will be shared soon.

भारत में जलविद्युत विकास को बड़े पैमाने पर बढ़ावा

इस सेक्टर में निजी क्षत्रे को आकर्षित करने के लिए सरकार ने 2016 में इस पर चर्चा शुरू की कि नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा के क्षत्रे को और विस्तृत किया जाए ताकि 25 मेगावाट क्षमता से अधिक के जलविद्युत स्टेशन भी उसमें शामिल किए जा सके। इससे सरकार को 2022 तक 175 मेगावाट नवीकरणीय ऊर्जा उत्पादित करने के लक्ष्य को हासिल करने में मदद मिलेगी।

Big Push for the Development of Hydropower in India

It is noteworthy that currently, coal-based power projects are under threat due to lack of coal linkages and power purchase agreements, thus stalling many existing power projects and discouraging many companies from expanding to new coal power projects. This would give a boost to hydropower projects in many regions, especially in the Himalayan regions.

The Role of IFIs in the Development Agenda

Ulka Mahajan on the Context of the Role of IFIs in the Development Agenda

MASS welcomes the US Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear the Case Challenging World Bank Group Immunity

For immediate release

MAAS welcomes the US Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear the Case Challenging World Bank Group Immunity
This will be the first time the US Supreme Court will address the scope of international organisations’ immunity.
May 21, 2018, Mundra, Gujarat: Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS) and the affected communities by the Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Project welcomes the historic decision of the US supreme court to hear the landmark lawsuit which challenged the immunity of powerful institutions like the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group.
“This is a victory of our relentless struggle to bring to justice the crimes committed by the Tata against the fishing community. The IFC aided the process by turning a blind eye to it,” said Dr Bharat Patel General Secretary, Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, one of the petitioners in the case.
The case, Jam v. IFC, brought by fishermen and farmers affected by IFC-funded Tata’s Mundra Ultra Mega Project challenged the absolute immunity enjoyed so far by international organisations like IFC.
“International organizations like the IFC are not above the law and must be held accountable when their projects harm communities. The notion of ‘absolute immunity’ is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, and it is contrary to the IFC’s own mission as an anti-poverty institution. We are glad the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case and hope it will correct this error,” said Richard Herz, Senior Litigation Attorney at EarthRights International (ERI).
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear their case means that it will consider international organisation immunity for the first time, and decide whether international organisations can be held accountable for their harmful conduct, or whether they enjoy the special status above the law that they claim.
Budha Jam, the main petitioner, said that “This decision on this case will be keenly awaited by not only by us but by the communities from across the world which are fighting the crimes of the international financial institutions in the name of promoting development. I am hopeful that the US Supreme Court will not let us down.”
International organisations like the IFC have long claimed they are entitled to “absolute” immunity from suit – an immunity far greater than any person, government, or entity enjoys – no matter how illegal their actions are or how much harm they cause.
“It is the time to start holding international financial institutions accountable. In this time and age when the human rights and accountability discourse has travelled far and wide, hiding behind the immunity clause is contrary to the “right to seeking justice” and “rights to remedy” of the communities,” added Patel.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that IFC had “absolute immunity” and could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant that has devastated communities in Gujarat. The D.C. Circuit recognised the “dismal” situation the plant has created for the complainants, including the destruction of their livelihoods and property and the serious threats to their health, and noted that the IFC had not denied those harms. The court found the IFC could not be sued based on prior D.C. Circuit decisions. One of the judges, however, expressed strong disagreement with IFC immunity and noted that another federal court had rejected the prior D.C. Circuit immunity cases, which she thought were “wrongly decided.”
“When at a time we thought that all doors for justice seemed closed, with this decision our faith in the judicial system is restored,” said Gajendrasinh Jadeja, head of a local village that is also a petitioner in the case.
Dr Bharat Patel (Mundra, Gujarat)
General Secretary, Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan
+ 91 94264 69803

Huge Overlap in Investments by MDBs, ExIM Banks, and Bilaterals on Critical Sectors

By Joe Athialy

Ever since the first lending from World Bank in 1949 worth $34 million to Indian Railways and the bilateral credit India received from the erstwhile USSR and USA in the early 50s, India has been a recipient of significant funds from different multilateral and bilateral sources.

While each of these lendings came with baggage, and often conditionalities, much of it was justified in the name of nation-building, and critiques of the enormous social, environmental and even economic costs were shut their mouth by the oft-repeated rhetoric of ‘somebody has to sacrifice for greater common good’. This was true not just for lending from international sources, but any investments.

What the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) brought, along with its lending, was a host of policy changes in almost all critical sectors. They often influenced and changed the course of development agenda of the country, by providing ‘Technical Assistance’ to governments, being the knowledge provider and taking the role of a development finance gatekeeper with their Doing Business Reports, Investment Climate Reports and many such.

With India opening up her economy in 1991, India has been a destination of many foreign corporations and by late 90s, with all systems in place for their smooth landing, they started pouring, starting with companies like Enron and Cogentrix. With the foreign corporations, came in financial institutions, both private banks as well as Export-Import Banks (ExIm Banks). Some of the institutions operating here in the past have deepened their operations. What was witnessing the past decade or so is an influx of these investments majorly in energy, transport, steel, dams, roads, urban projects, industrial zones/corridors, smart cities and other mega projects. The number of financial sources coming in, the pace in which these investments are finalised and the quantum of money pouring in is alarming and often do not give the opportunity to see the investments in toto.

There have been many struggles – small and big – against these investments and the devastation, which caused to the people – their livelihood and natural resources, and the environment. While the yardstick of measuring the successes and failures of these struggles could vary depending on who does it, the reality remains that the struggles have forced MDBs to relook the way they conduct business in this country, compelled them to adopt safeguard policies and compliance mechanisms and didn’t shy away from confronting them on the ground, on the streets and even at their doorsteps.

The Indian government, for past few decades, has stressed the need for large infrastructural projects for the country’s development and these projects are being seen as a stimulus to the growth of India’s GDP. This aggressive growth comes at the cost of displacing the lives of people who are dependent on land and natural resources for their livelihood and devastating the environment. This also often comes at the expense of displacing existing dwelling communities who are pushed to a life of poverty and whose life and livelihood cannot be commensurably compensated by money – in most cases, not even that.

This document is an effort to compile data of investments coming into India from MDBs, ExIm banks and other bilateral investments, to help understand the landscape of financing from these institutions and helping to understand the overlaps of international financial institutions in certain key sectors.

The data provided in this document is not comprehensive. While information from MDBs is comparatively easy to access, that of ExIms and bi-lateral sources are difficult to compile. Despite our best efforts, there are many we missed. We will keep this as a work in progress and will update the data as and when we get it.

We hope that this data and the broader understanding this document may help provide will strengthen the struggles on the ground as well as critical voices demanding transparency and accountability in financial institutions.

Tentacles-of-International-Finance-in-India

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